Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 70 / MARCH 1986 / PAGE 118

IBM Personal Computing

Donald B. Trivette

The Ultimate Entertainment Center

Picture yourself in front of a 26-inch color monitor—shoes off, feet up, remote control in hand. But this is not just any remote control. This is a special remote unit that controls all of the components in your entertainment/computing system.

You push the TV button and bring up World News Tonight on the monitor: Peter Jennings reports that the stock market has soared to new highs. As he fades into a commercial, you decide to call Dow Jones News/Retrieval to see how your own stocks did. But first, you push the compact disc button to fill the room with a Beethoven symphony so real that you wonder where the orchestra is hiding. Then you press the VID2 key to put the computer video on the screen. You reach for the PCjr's wireless keyboard and start the appropriate communications program; then you press TV to return to the news while the computer retrieves the quotes.

At the next break, you display the Dow Jones results onscreen with the VID2 key. After the newscast, you press the VCR STOP, REWIND, and PLAY keys to view the "M*A*S*H" rerun you've been taping from an independent station. But first, you check the progress of the cassette tape you've been recording from an FM stereo broadcast.

This isn't a pipe dream—this is RCA's Dimensia. Billed as intelligent audio/video, it integrates numerous components into a single system commanded from a single remote control. The heart of the system is a 26-inch stereo monitor/ receiver. Once you acquire the monitor, you can add other components according to your needs and budget. Current Dimensia components are an AM/FM receiver/ amplifier, a compact audio disc player, a cassette tape recorder, two phonographs, a graphic equalizer, and several models of stereo VHS video recorders.

Connection Options

RCA designed the Dimensia system so you can also connect nonDimensia components, including home computers. The PCjr, with its wireless keyboard, is a particularly good choice; it can be connected in three ways. Like most home computers and videogame machines, the PCjr can be hooked up to a TV's antenna terminals with an RF modulator. Since the Dimensia system allows multiple antennas—selected by remote control—you can switch between the PCjr's screen, cable service, and a satellite dish.

The PCjr also has a composite video output that can be connected to one of the monitor's three video input jacks. The PREVIOUS CHANNEL key lets you instantly switch between a TV program and the computer screen, so you can watch Dynasty and play King's Quest at the same time.

A third connection option is the Dimensia's RGB direct-drive video input. Although the Dimensia's RGB connectors aren't compatible with the PCjr's RGB plug, the signals are compatible. Radio Shack sells a four-conductor, color-coded patch cable that can be modified by anyone handy with a soldering iron to make the connection.

For everything but text, the Dimensia's composite video is as clear as the RGB mode, and it has an added advantage: You can record its output with a video cassette recorder. This means you can run programs on the PCjr and record the results on the VCR, which is perfect for putting titles on your home videos. You can also dub stereo audio from a compact disc player, the AM/FM tuner, the cassette recorder, or the phonograph.

A Piqued PCjr

Since both the Dimensia and the PCjr keyboard use an infrared remote control, there is the possibility of conflict. I couldn't find any button on the Dimensia's 52-key remote controller that the PCjr would recognize, but the computer was well aware that strange infrared signals were reaching its sensor. It squealed like a perturbed pig every time I used the Dimensia remote. This is easily and permanently solved by amputating Junior's little beeper—something I had intended to do for months anyway.

There's another annoying aspect of the PCjr you may want to fix, even if you don't have the Dimensia monitor. The joystick is not a wireless device and the cable that connects it to the computer is too short to reach across the room. Once again, it's Radio Shack to the rescue with its ten-foot joystick extension cord. Of course, this cord was designed for Tandy computers and the connections are not compatible with the PCjr's unusual plugs, so it's back to the soldering iron. Simply chop the joystick cable about eight inches from where it connects to the computer and solder a sub-D nine-pin connector (also available at Radio Shack) on each end, being careful to keep the pin numbers and wire colors consistent. It works perfectly.

The complete Dimensia system with all the components can cost as much as $5,000—but don't hesitate to haggle. The more components you buy, the better deal you can get.

Besides its flexibility, the Dimensia also may be the world's most user-friendly entertainment center. Although not documented in the manuals and unknown to sales people, the monitor displays a help screen across the bottom of the picture when you press AUX 0 0. Drop by a dealer and try it.